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Hardin County a Living History Lesson

Not far from the busier streets of Findlay is the quiet world of Hardin County. The home of Amish farms, antique shops and an old-timey general store, it’s a place to explore history and enjoy the rural life.

Not far from the busier streets of Findlay is the quiet world of Hardin County. The home of Amish farms, antique shops and an old-timey general store, it’s a place to explore history and enjoy the rural life.

Annetta Shirk, chamber and tourism director for the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, has lived in the county her entire life and “wouldn’t live anywhere else.” Now she gets to share it with visitors from other areas, which she finds “very rewarding.”

Shirk said she gets visitors from all over, including many from Columbus. Sometimes car clubs wanting a rural, scenic drive will come through the area. “We are a great day tour,” she said.

The county has about 31,000 residents, with Kenton, the largest town, having 8,200.

Shirk said there are a variety of festivals throughout the year, “things going on all the time,” so she suggested looking at the calendar to plan a daytrip or a weekend adventure. September events include the Hardin County Fair in Kenton from Sept. 6-11 and the Harvest and Herb Festival in Ada from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 17.

Shirk often gets questions about the Amish communities and also hears from people interested in Wilson’s Football Factory in Ada, “home of the NFL football.” The factory, which produces 3,000 to 5,000 footballs daily, has been making the NFL football since 1941. Tours are only on select dates and are “first come, first serve.”

And the Hardin County Courthouse, still an active courthouse, is “absolutely gorgeous,” Shirk said. Known as an example of New Classical Revival architecture, it features stained glass skylights.

Gene Autry and a ‘pay it forward’ restaurant

One of the displays at the Hardin County Historical Museum in Kenton focuses on the cast-iron toys created by the Kenton Hardware Co. between 1898 and 1953.

The museum’s biggest claim to fame, though, is the Gene Autry cap pistol. The factory created a Colt .45, a ¾ replica of the actual gun Autry used, and it’s now on display as “The cap pistol that saved an entire town.”

All told, the factory made more than 10,000 kinds of toys, including toy stoves that actually hooked up to a gas supply, and toy trains.

The museum also features displays of clothing and household items, as well as some of the works of Hardin County native Fred Machetanz who, after moving to Alaska, became a famous artist. And there are unusual items like the 19th century wreaths of human hair.

Also on display is the nation’s first Medal of Honor, given to Kenton native Jacob Parrott in 1863.

The museum, in a Queen Anne-style home built in 1896, is believed haunted by a former resident. It’s located at 223 N. Main St., Kenton, and can be reached at 419-673-7147.

The Autry connection also includes a movie theater, still in use, where he performed in 1938. And in Kenton you can find Gene Autry Mural Park and a larger-than-life mural of the singing cowboy.

Looking for a place to eat in Kenton? Shirk recommended the award-winning Michael Angelo’s Pizza.

Then there is Table One, a “pay what you can afford” restaurant. The nonprofit organization’s president, the Rev. Loran Miracle, said in a phone interview that Table One is a normal restaurant in every way. But, while anyone who can afford to pay for a nice restaurant meal does so, anyone who can’t is still welcome.

Diners are asked to “pay it forward” for others and to volunteer if they have no money. All of the staff, except the cook, are volunteers.

Table One has been open since June, at the site of what used to be another longtime restaurant which went out of business. Miracle said he wants those who are struggling financially to get the opportunity to have a quality restaurant meal. The slogan? “One table. Everyone eats.”

Table One is at 1 N. Detroit St. and can be reached at 419-674-3400.

Recent visitors included a couple who were staying in a shelter and had to be out of it during the day. They and their 6-month-old baby came to Table One. Volunteers watched their baby and the couple ate lunch, then were sent home with food.

“There’s a hundred stories like that,” Miracle said.

Imports and old-timey items

Also in Kenton is Brim’s Imports, where car and motorcycle aficionados can see vehicles dating back more than 100 years.

Owner Tom Brim has met enthusiasts from all over, including the Netherlands, England and Japan.

“It’s a steady stream of characters,” Brim said. “And they’re fun.”

He has motorcycles, bicycles and automobiles from a variety of periods of history. Brim’s is located at 370 W. Franklin St. and can be reached at 419-674-4137.

The Pfeiffer Station General Store sells penny candy, hand-dipped ice cream, spices and many varieties of jam. Hot sandwiches and daily lunch specials are available for carryout. Aside from food, the store also sells quilts, candles, cards and other crafts. Much of the food and crafts are Amish-made. The store, built in 1883, also carries live bait for those who wish to fish in the nearby river. The store is at 19950 County Road 144, outside of Kenton, and can be reached at 419-674-4103.

Across the street is Wheeler Tavern, which was a stop on the Underground Railroad. When it was a tavern people such as Stephen A. Douglas, Henry Clay and President William Henry Harrison stopped there.

Some of the older residents of the area recall having gotten married in Kenton, then spending their honeymoon in the apartment above the general store. The apartment had, at one point, a wide-open dance floor, and couples also recall coming there to dance. There have also reportedly been paranormal experiences.

The current owner is Rebecca Whitaker of Kenton. Her daughter, Morgan Ellis, recently graduated with a degree in history and finds working in sales at the store suits her. “It’s very quiet, laid-back,” she said.

Ellis said they get tourists from overseas, and recently heard from a man in London, England, who is planning a trip and found the store on Facebook.

‘Yesterday today’

The village of Mount Victory, south of Kenton on Ohio 31, has 625 residents and 11 antique shops. Some are only open on weekends, so keep this in mind as you plan your visit.

Mayor Michael Trout said it’s a village where everyone knows everyone.

“You’ve got good neighbors,” he said.

And, asked what makes Mount Victory special, he replied, “The people.”

One of those people is Peggy Harrison, owner of Tea for Three Antiques. Harrison has a garden outside her shop which has been a stop on local garden tours. Her store is at 108 N. High St. and can be reached at 937-354-3334.

Harrison, 79, has lived on the same street her entire life, except for a six-month stint in Kenton. As a child she walked down the street of Mount Victory on stilts.

She taught at the small school, which was recently torn down. She’d attended school there, too, as had her mother, who was in first grade around the time the school was built, in 1907.

For awhile she taught school in the Columbus area, too, commuting 48 minutes each way every day. She found that her colleagues there would enjoy driving north to Hardin County to visit the Amish farms.

Another resident of Mount Victory is Pancake. The dog’s owner, Ron Eastman, is the real part owner of Eastman Antiques, but Eastman said it’s often Pancake who many locals stop in specifically to see each day. At the antique store you can find a variety of items large and small, with kitchen china and other similar items on display. Eastman Antiques is at 474 S. Main St., and can be reached at 937-354-2354.

Near Eastman’s is Plaza Restaurant, in business since 1959.

“The pies are outstanding,” Trout said.

He said many area organizations and businesses hold meetings there. Trout was first sworn in as mayor in a booth at the restaurant.

As you walk around town, Trout said, many things haven’t changed in decades. Mount Victory still has its own independent bank, in business since 1930, where customers bring in their passbooks.

Trout said Mount Victory is a place where “time does move slower.” He said another resident coined the phrase “Come spend yesterday today in Mount Victory.” Trout thought, “My God, that’s fitting.”

In the town of Ada you’ll find Ohio Northern University. Its Freed Center for the Performing Arts opened its doors in 1991. It’s home to a 550-seat proscenium theatre, a 132-seat studio theatre, a 3,000-watt radio station, a cable access channel and an art gallery. More than 1,070 productions performed by ONU students and professional companies have appeared on the stage. It’s located at 525 S. Main St. and can be reached at 419-772-1900.

The Fort McArthur Cemetery is at County Road 106 and County Road 115, outside Kenton. The memorial represents the graves of 16 American soldiers from the War of 1812. Fort McArthur was built in the summer of 1812 to guard the Scioto River. It was under command of future Ohio Gov. Col. Duncan McArthur.

This is the sixth in a series of seven stories exploring the counties that circle Hancock County.